Monday, August 20, 2012

Like: Celeste and Jesse Forever

File Celeste and Jesse Forever in with the films I'll look back fondly upon, but which I can't quite say I love just yet.  It's a story which I suspect will rank as a sort of lady version of High Fidelity, the sort of film you find yourself loving more and more intensely as you accidentally grow in to something resembling it.  Celeste (Rashida Jones) is a woman with one foot in a world of arrested development and the other grounded in the life of the professional, the mature.  Before the opening credits finish rolling, her marriage to the endearingly un-serious Jesse (Andy Samberg) has dissolved and they're amicably platonic best friends.  Though they spend all their excess time together, visit all the same friends, and live on different parts of the same property, they're in the process of a divorce because, we learn, Celeste decided that Jesse was essentially too stuck in an Apatowian immaturity to really grow with her into the next stage of their life. So, they tell each other they love one another, they share the same dumb jokes, but they can't stay married.  It's a decision we immediately see neither feels completely comfortable with, but, like a young, hipster version of Hope Springs, each is content to follow through upon in the name of the other's happiness. 
There's a lot that's frustrating about Celeste and Jesse, and most of it is derived from just how real the relationship depicted seems.  We can see what their friends see, and there seems to be this urgent need from outside of the relationship for them to make up their minds and get it over with.  They either need off the proverbial band aid and go their separate ways, or sign on to figure their shit out.  We know, inevitably, what's coming: that this is a couple that should never have separated, that there will likely always be regrets; and that's why it's so hard to watch them come to that realization on their own.  The story is presented primarily from Celeste's perspective, and because of that the film becomes trapped in a fair amount of content that seems rigidly formulaic.  Though the added twists here are that the girl dumped the boy and both parties are fairly confused, we still have to watch that tried and true third wheel trope play itself out: girl watches as male best friend finds other girl, girl watches as male best friend moves on, girl realizes she should have never let male best friend remain simply a best friend.  As Celeste gets pushed back onto the dating scene, instructed to 'loosen up a bit', and comfortable around the usual 'guy who would never be her type in a million years' (Chris Messina), I began to spend too much time wondering why the film's early focus on little details and inside jokes disappears in favor of the calamitous date shtick.
The elements that try to push the film towards romantic comedy seem forced, and while the film boasts a comically gifted cast, it's so clearly a tragedy that the resistance I felt towards those unwanted elements bordered on annoyance.  Jones is really rather wonderful here, and Samberg makes for a perfect counterpart.  The interactions we see between them in the film's earliest scenes are fluid, effortless, and loaded with a tension both actors have no problem playing off in a way that makes us understand what goes unsaid.  If the director had allowed the film's comic moments to arrive organically in the interactions between Celeste and Jesse themselves, I sense the depth of feeling here would resonate all the harder.  Instead, Celeste and Jesse Forever goes off on tangents that don't make sense (one involving a raunchy popstar played by Emma Roberts) in context and separates us from the story at its core.  I liked these characters, I believed them, I wanted to see them pull through, and I understood how absolutely traumatic it would be to realize that by simply progressing with your life you would be drifting further and further away from a happiness you knew with a person who was the closest to you in the world.  It's an unbelievably sad love story disguised as something bittersweet.  For all its tragically hip trappings, the melancholy pauses are where the elements click.

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